Sign of the Times

14Dec09

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Even though the phrase is repeated ad nauseum, Pakistanis seem to be more annoyed than usual on hearing US leaders urge Pakistan to ‘do more’. The Daily Times on Sunday has United States President Barack Obama saying to CBS News that ‘Pakistan must help US against Qaeda.’ On Sunday, the head of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus reiterated the line with a slightly altered angle: ‘Pakistan must pressurise Afghan Taliban.’ Judging by the signs, the much awaited announcement of the AfPak strategy does not appear to be limited to the troop surge in Afghanistan. In his CBS interview on Saturday, Obama does not overtly threaten to bomb Quetta, but he does rather pointedly say

I don’t want to comment on certain sensitive aspects to our efforts in this border region. I think it is fair to say, number one, that my principle is if we’ve got actual war intelligence on high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders, or for those matter high-ranking Taliban leaders who are directing actions against US troops, then we will take action.” […]  A lot of this border region is big and complicated. And even a city like Quetta is a big city. (My italics not theirs to highlight the seemingly tangential mention of Quetta.)”

Lo and behold, today the Los Angeles Times warns of an expansion of drone strikes into Balochistan. As a Pakistani it is hard to ignore the Times when it says

U.S. officials seek to push CIA drone strikes into the major city of Quetta to try to pressure Pakistan into pursuing Taliban leaders based there.”

It would do well for the US to keep in mind that it may not be quite as simple to bomb Quetta as it is the Tribal Areas. After all, as the US President and the article note, Quetta is a major city, which would mean more collateral damage and much more organised resistance. It would be hard even for the Pakistani state with its heavy reliance on the US for aid to allow a missile strike on a major urban centre. At any other time in history and in most other parts of the world, there would be no other way to describe it but as an act of war.

What further exacerbates the annoyance of ordinary Pakistanis is the irony of Obama making such war-mongering statements within days of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. The people of Pakistan are not alone in their opinion. Author and columnist, Pankaj Mishra writes for The Guardian:

Widening his campaign of extrajudicial execution by drone missiles within Pakistan, Barack Obama seems far from abandoning an anachronistic American faith in superior firepower; the militarism of our new Nobel peace laureate seems constrained only by its steep financial costs.

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That’s the other thing. The point raised in the text above is one that compounds the anti-American sentiment in Pakistan – the disillusionment with the man, Barack Obama. The greater empathy that was expected of the man to succeed the jingoist, George W Bush, does not show itself. At best, Obama has maintained the status quo while at worst, he has further deteriorated an already complex situation. Not only has he increased boots on the ground, he’s made clear his intentions of pulling out of Afghanistan within a time frame that suits the United States not the region, and with broad hints of bombing Quetta and ‘taking out’ Pakistan’s nuclear assets, he has made noises that echo in the worst nightmares of Pakistan’s people.

In The Guardian, Mustafa Qadri writes

The fundamental problem for Pakistan is that Obama’s acceleration of the war against the Taliban has been calculated largely on the basis of domestic US political demands and not those of the region, let alone Pakistan.

AFP photo in Dawn newspaper

As fears go, one of the paramount worries voiced in Pakistan’s media, blogosphere and living rooms is the presence of US-hired private security firms. It doesn’t help that Sunday’s headline in Dawn stated that the CIA has canceled a secret Blackwater contract on drones. The fact remains that there are increasing reports of Americans on the ground that are stopped by the police. They allegedly engage in arguments, refuse to permit officers from checking their vehicles on the pretext of diplomatic immunity and are eventually, released.

If there is one thing we have learned from history, the cloak and dagger approach does not work. The Pakistani government should devise a strategy to reassure people instead of making half-hearted protests to the United States. As for the US, rather than reverting to putting boots on the ground, perhaps the Americans should consider putting their ear to the ground, and for a moment listening to what the Pakistani people might have to say.

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14 Responses to “Sign of the Times”

  1. 1 Faisal kapadia

    They will never put their ears to the ground becuz if they did they wud hear the cries of their soldiers in the jungles of nam, histroy has tried to teach them a lesson but they never listen. In nam the weapon of choice was napalm now theyve got drones but what they fail to realize is that a gureilla war is fought by boots not xe goons and unmanned drones. Till now most of afghanistan is out of their control!! If they expand to quetta whats stopping them from bombing my or my neighbors house in karachj? This will only lead to wholesale revolt and the khakis taking over just watch a meray aziz hamwatano speech is coming up pronto!!

  2. Love the concluding para, great job!

  3. When you create an evil, it becomes your responsibility. Taliban are our creation, we have to “do more” otherwise US has all the right to conduct precision strikes.

    I know that no one will like what i am saying here, but someone has to say it. In clear terms.

  4. 4 ranasamir

    Wondering what do we lack in making full-hearted protests to the US, if we are to protest at all?

    Well said indeed Naveen!!

  5. Obama didn’t ask for Nobel prize and he certainly isn’t going to let it dictate his thought process on the AfPak strategy. What he WILL do however is continue to extract fair value for the billions the US is handing over to Pakistan. Drone strikes in Quetta and covert ops in the rest of Pakistan aren’t going to stop simply because they offend sensibilities in that country. This is going to get more interesting before things start to cool down.

  6. 6 sun

    Well if u r not on the side of truth than none bush or obama will side with you guys . sorry u guys do not deserve goodies

  7. 7 neel123

    When terrorists are allowed to hide amongst the civilians, there will always be collateral damage. That is the price the innocents pay in the fight against terror.

    It is war… ! Any bombing of Quetta in future will indeed be an act of war.

    The world is at war with the Pakistan based terrorists, in which Pakistan, sofar, is perceived to be on the side of the world. Pakistan is doing a tricky game of balancing act in this war, that is being fought against its protegees.

    Any future move in Pakistan, either to oppose, or scuttle NATO initiatives will be an act of war by Pakistan on the NATO.

  8. naveen:

    The Pakistani government should devise a strategy to reassure people instead of making half-hearted protests to the United States.

    ah! if only!

    if only there existed men with spine, with humilty, with the courage of conviction, with wisdom

    yes, tall order

  9. 9 Haroon Ahmed Malik

    Not only is it a serious threat to the sovereignty of the country in a symbolic way, but a potential drone strike in any area in Balochistan will also lead to deterioration of internal stabilitity. Balochistan is already a very volatile and sensitive issue. This current government is attempting a differnet approach to handling the dissident voices in the province. Any outside interference will be seriously detremental to this process. Balochistan has been used by a number of external forces to their ends and the state’s responses over the years have further alienated the rebellious elements.

    It is not just a matter of looking at the American actions, but what requires a more serious thought is the analysis of the end they wish to achieve from their continued presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. What the Pakistani nation and the leadership needs to realise is whether the war that has been inflicted upon us has any remote benefit to us at all!

    Ponder on this.

    Continued presence of the US troops and their ever expanding spere of drone attacks, significant number of Pakistani forces involved in active warfare within the country will only serve to weaken Pakistan. What with the goverment further enslaving us with ever higher burdens of US and international loans at the other end.

    Sorry for portraying a gloomy picture. But great nations do not fear such adversities, and we are a great nation. We had proved that 62 years ago. Time requires a repeat of that unity and action on part of everyone.

    Thanks 🙂

  10. Right on Naveen!! Well-put.

    It was about time we realized the risk of yet again being exploited and manipulated strategically and then let to lick our wounds, helpless and without any assistance.

    Eliminating Taliban would be good for us but while we do so, we can’t rely entirely upon the strategy Washington devises for us, especially when it has pre-meditated plans of abandoning the trail mid-way no matter what the circumstances be.

    What bothers me most is the recent movement in US personnel within major cities of Pakistan. What exactly is US up to? Now that international media too is citing evidences to the presence of Blackwater in Pakistan, how long can our officials, the army and white house push further with their lies towards US presence in Pakistan.

    It may well be said that Pakistan is to pay the price of it’s past’s sins but well….Pakistan sure as hell should tell those dictating ‘do more’ to shut up if this achieves peace(too optimistic, I know) for the rest of the world is achieved at the very cost of Pakistan, not forgetting our white patrons were equally involved in those sins! We need to look to our interests first before giving the rhetoric of what we ‘ought’ to do – US ‘ought’ to do lot more than it’s doing, and different from what it’s doing. And while our nation and national interests are at stake and we are having our army men and masses killed and bombed, it’s us who should be deciding the strategy, not some noble-laureate rhetorician in White House!

  11. 11 Debitum Naturae

    The American regime and their paki henchmen are the cause of the death and oppression in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    Robert Fisk…is a world renowned journalist and Middle East correspondent for over 30 years.

    He says, ‘Obama is totally weak and impotent…he is worse than Bush!’

    ‘American need to get out of that land…its not their land’

    It will become a graveyard for the US and for anyone that aids them there.

    The Corrupt Pak Gov and Army will continue to make our nation weaker, until ‘WE’ the people stand up for our honour and dignity.


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